Thursday, January 30, 2014

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Sixty-Four

Backing into a parking space on boulevard St. Laurent, Pavor recognized a portion of a storefront that used to be an old bakery back in the 1970s, a shop where his Westmount Anglo-Saxon Protestant Father would politely request a dozen white seed bagels and a loaf of country style every other Friday to bring up to the cottage. As he sat there searching for change for the parking meter, he could almost see his Dad pulling into the driveway in his burgundy Volvo 245GL, and emerging with his brief case and the brown paper bag with its fresh baked aromas which would follow him down the hallway into the kitchen where he would inevitably praise the St. Lawrence Bakery as the finest purveyor of the tastiest, light bready bagels in the city. Having accompanied him on occasion, Pavor remembered the shop's simple unadorned window display areas, the dim overhead lighting, elderly cashiers and assistants, voices from the back in a language unknown to him, and the overwhelming fragrance of baked goods, an example of what his Father said used to dominate the street, a plethora of small shops selling meat, fish, textiles, hardware, books, leathers, dress goods, shoes, dry goods and groceries, shops now expanded and merged into larger spaces for restaurants, discos, bars and nightclubs. The old bakery was now part of an expanded space selling musical instruments and all the technological appendages and paraphernalia to accompany them.

As he walked up the street towards Schwartz's where he was to meet his agent for lunch, the international language of Graffiti graced the way like so much signage, though one of high colour and artistic accomplishment he had to admit. It was only the other night when he was further up on this hallowed street following Jerome into Le Bar Prufrock to happen upon Rough Draft performing their post-modern songs on a small stage in a small room. His ears were still ringing thanks to Livia Plurabelle, Adagio and Zoran. Passing the large space where Warshaw's Grocery used to be, now a Pharmaprix, he recalled a place where you could buy anything from cabbage rolls to card tables, figs to flatware, perogies to ping pong balls, but though it had vanished due to generational change, two institutions had persisted like guardians on either side of the street, Schwartz's Deli and Berson & Sons Granite Monuments with its open yard displaying slabs of rough stone beneath the rusted iron beams and uprights of the ghost of a building that once had been faced with bricks and mortar, and life within. Local street artists had adorned the inner courtyard and its balcony of the old building behind, with intrusive swirls of colour, a psychedelic contrast to the grey offerings on sale.

He checked his watch and saw he was a few minutes early. Looking through the window he could tell the lunch crowd had diminished, and being late October, the tourists were in abeyance. Opening the door, he felt his Father’s hand on his shoulder as he guided him into the restaurant saying it was a Montreal rite of passage to sit at the counter amidst the manic bustle and the noise of dish clangings, kitchen slicings, phone ringings, customer orderings, voice voicings and mouth chewings, surrounded by the competing elbows of business men in suits, taxi drivers, factory labourers, truckers, students, an overwhelming male milieu he had thought, a milieu that had been cramped and noisy but offered simple dishes of ambrosia, everything else was atmosphere. Natural atmosphere.

He spotted Luke sitting at a back table fiddling with his shiny smart phone.

“Texting Thomas Pynchon by any chance?” Pavor said as he sat down.

“Somehow I don't think he needs an agent,” Luke Newton said, unperturbed by Pavor's quiet arrival. “So, the Prodigal son returns. Don't worry, I've already ordered: two full-fat smoked meat sandwiches, fries, slaw, pickles and two cherry cokes. When you don't come here often, you have to do it right, seize the pickle, embrace the cherry coke.”

“What if I'd been delayed?”

“Oh, my friend,” Luke intoned touching his midriff like a carny at a sideshow, “it would not have gone to waste.” Luke appraised Pavor and wondered if he should hit him with the good news, or investigate the bad? “So, did you come back to Montreal for a special Halloween party or something? A chance to portray a six foot three, fair-haired Dracula and attend a dance party put on by Arcade Fire at a secret venue?”

Pavor turned sideways as the waiter brought them their meal, a balancing act worthy of a circus performer. “I'm impressed Fig. I didn't know you were up on the latest trends.”

“Kids, P. K., my kids keep my up to date. An ironic dividend for ageing me in other ways,” and he ran a hand through his thinning grey hair.

“No, as I said, personal affairs.” He bit into his sandwich and almost forgot himself in its succulence. Finding himself hungry, he finished off one half of the sandwich and then wiped his lips. “I proposed marriage to Melisande. We're to marry in the spring.”

Fig, in the midst of stuffing two french fries into his mouth, heaved as if on the edge of choking, a visualization of the contractions of his heart passed before his eyes, the diastole and systole ventriculations his Doctor had pointed out to him in the MRI images of his own dear heart. “A toast to the happy couple,” he managed, cherry coke in hand. “What precipitated this? I mean, I know you've been in a relationship with Melisande for some time. Why the sudden decision? Is she . . . ?”

Pavor bit off half of his crunchy garlicky pickle and wiped his fingers ignoring the unasked question. “When I was in Italy, I experienced a series of fortunate, and perhaps unfortunate incidents which helped me reevaluate my life. You know me Fig, I've not felt at home in Montreal for a long time. All my late Father's relatives live in England. My Mother now lives in Prague. I have no family here. Victoria and Tamara have been gone for a long time, and at 47, I'm starting to . . . waver in my isolation I guess.” He ate a few french fries with the concentration of an epicure. “After the tragedy, I moved to Toronto, yes, you didn't know that did you, but I didn't last. I felt alien there as well. All these years my sensibilities have been in a virtual space halfway between Europe and Montreal. I often considered moving, but concluded I'd feel just as alien abroad. But I can see now that Melisande is my grounding, my home.”

Nodding to Pavor's revelations, Luke decided he should tell him the good news. “Well, that's great P. K., I look forward to the wedding. Fabulous. And talking about fabulous, we've received a new option on your Olivaster Moon. I know the first one died in development, but you never know, this one might make it through.” Luke gave him a slip of paper with the amount paid. “So my friend, some nice cashola for your upcoming wedding eh!”

“That's wonderful,” he said, and as he stared at the numbers, the thought came to him that if he'd only known, he could have kept the inscribed Sir Richard Francis Burton book and offered it to Duncan to sell; as it was, he hadn't mentioned the book to Duncan for it would have caused him some pain to know he could have been the recipient of such a rarity to sell, an item to add prestige to his modest list. But then, how could he have known? “That's wonderful Fig, thanks so much. Who's behind it?”

“The name and information is on the back of the paper, Grindel & Poe Productions. Looks good. Could be some big names attached. So, how's the new book coming along?”

“It's progressing. Getting there. Early days though.” Pavor finished his sandwich and dug into the slaw with abandon. Should he tell Fig his thoughts about knocking off his anti-hero Rex Packard? Three Rex novels was a good number. He could see a large trade paper edition, The Rex Packard Trilogy. “I've been thinking of leaving Rex behind after this one and trying my hand at something a bit more . . . literary.”

Luke finished his pickle while looking at Pavor for signs of jest. “You're starting to sound like an unreliable narrator P. K.”

“Aren't we all, consciously or unconsciously, unreliable narrators. Anyway, three Rex novels is a good number don't you think?”

Plying his french fries with vinegar, Luke tried to think of what to say. Why discontinue a good thing he thought? Why go from a sports car to a station wagon? “Three's a good number, yes, but there's a hell of lot of competition in the 'literary' world these days, all those twenty-somethings with their MFA's in creative writing pumping out novels only to be picked up by colleges and universities to teach creative writing classes in order to cultivate further crops of designated writers, creating an ever expanding literary loop.” He finished his cherry coke like it was a shot of whiskey.

“I know, I know,” Pavor said pushing his plate aside. “I didn't start by publishing poems and short stories in the small journals, making connections and confreres in the culture, no widening ripples of welcoming arms to embrace and support my efforts. I just sat in my corner of the boxing ring, no one behind me, no trainer with a swab, a stitch, a soft towel and a water bottle telling me to watch my left side, no family or friends cheering me on, the ring a blinding light, the imagined audience a series of dark outlines with murmurings of discontent, cigar chewing denouncements, snarky asides and derisive snorts.”

“But I've been there for you.”

“Yes, of course, but in the beginning I was out there by myself. The canvas of the ring was so thin I thought I'd go right through it and that would be it. Finis.”

“Don't you want to keep working towards one of those great awards, an Edgar, an Agatha, a Gold Dagger, an Arthur Ellis or what's that other one, the, the . . . Grant Allen?”

Pavor stretched with his arms behind his head, raised his eyebrows in response and breathed out slowly.

“Next thing you'll be telling me you're going to move to a small town in southern Ontario and try to get published by Highmore & Limbert. Do you really want to be gilded by the Giller, governed by the General, manipulated by the Man Booker?”

Pavor laughed. “Maybe we should have lunch more often so I can copy down all your bon mots and phrases of wisdom.”

“Well, you've got me thinking, on a full stomach no less. What's your Mother's maiden name?”

“My Mother's maiden name? Valasek. Why?”

“That's perfect. You could use her name for your literary work, and keep P. K. Loveridge for your crime series. Pavor Valasek gives off the the aura of a European author. Yes, I can see some of the titles already, Vespers by Pavor Valasek; Valour by Pavor Valasek; Vestiges by Pavor Valasek.”

“I don't know Luke, as I had one of my characters say, 'Where vanity raises its head, vulgarity is sure to follow.' Pavor Valasek? Really?”

“Why not? You can keep the sports car and also have the station wagon. Loveridge and Valasek. Win, win. You can knock off a book for each author every year. Brilliant. Why didn't I think of this before?”

Pavor finished his cherry coke and quietly, with his hands over his mouth, burped. “Sorry, no offence. Two books a year?”

“Just think of it Pavor. An Edgar and a Booker. In the same year!”

Outside, Pavor breathed in the cool refreshing air and waited for Fig to finish paying. Two books a year! He should have remained quiet and said all was well, the book would be in on time, blah, blah, blah, but no, he had to be honest. Then again, there was a certain appeal to such an idea. Pavor Valasek? It might work. A different set of clothes. Vespers had a nice ring to it. He looked across the street at the granite slabs and wondered what would be on his gravestone. Loveridge or Valasek? Then he shook his head. How ridiculous, Vanitas it would read. Vanitas.

© ralph patrick mackay  

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